“We haven’t really got time for disappointment.”
Latics’ top scorer Will Keane’s words are those of a player and a team focused on one thing and one thing only. The hunt for promotion will not be compromised by Tuesday night’s result.
The semi-final penalty shootout defeat to Sutton United in midweek saw us miss out on a trip to Wembley, but Keane and his teammates face 12 cup finals in search of the main prize.
Final number 1 sees Latics travel to Buckinghamshire for what on paper is their toughest remaining test. MK Dons are the EFL’s form side and are within touching distance of moving ahead of the Tics in the league.
With selection headaches and tactical changes expected Leam Richardson’s side face an uphill battle against the football league’s youngest club, but Wigan fans know the club has a history of overcoming these challenges.
Latics Team News
One positive of Tuesday’s cup game was that many key players got a well deserved rest. Ben Amos, Jack Watmough, Curtis Tilt, Tom Naylor, Callum Lang and Stephen Humphrys all sat out of the Sutton game, with Will Keane, Gwion Edwards and Max Power only featuring briefly off the bench.
Hopefully the time off will see a revitalised and hungry Latics XI take the field at Stadium MK, against a possession hungry side that will keep our lads on their toes from minute 1 to 90.
Ben Amos will likely be tasked with keeping the divisions 3rd top goal scorers at bay. Amos has 12 clean sheets to his name and will do very very well to add to that record on Saturday afternoon.
A big decision for Leam Richardson will be whether or not to match MK Dons’ 3 at the back. The return of Jason Kerr in midweek has made this a much more likely outcome, albeit the 24 year old struggled in his first game back. Jack Watmough and Curtis Tilt would probably join Kerr as part of the back 3, and with the trios last performance against Rotherham being so solid Latics fans could feel confident if this is what happens.
The Right Wing Back spot would likely go to Gavin Massey who is the go to man in big games for us. He would offer energy and hard work off the ball which could be invaluable. The opposite flank could go to one of Joe Bennett and Tom Pearce, but I would favour the former. Set pieces could be huge for Latics and Bennett’s delivery is fantastic which makes him an asset at both ends of the pitch.
Playing Massey at RWB means Max Power can take his place in the midfield alongside Tom Naylor. Power was targeted and exposed when playing in the reverse fixture so I’m sure he’d welcome a move back into midfield. His partnership with Naylor will be key in deciding the outcome of the match, both will need to be sound defensively and create at every opportunity.
Ahead of the ‘sitters’ lies 3 men with 55% of Latics goals this season. Will Keane, Callum Lang and Stephen Humphrys have scored 33 goals between them this season and will be looking to add to this tally at Stadium MK. The partnership the 3 forwards have been developing in recent weeks has looked extremely promising and Tics fans everywhere will be hoping they’re firing on all cylinders come Saturday afternoon.
An interesting thing to note is that MK’s last 4 victories have all come against sides playing with a back 3, and in these matches they have only averaged 50.05% possession. This shows an ability to adapt and overcome the challenges put to them by rigid opposition systems. Perhaps a back 3 isn’t such an obvious choice, but it’s the one I expect us to choose.
How to write this without sounding worried…
MK Dons are in a rich vein of form at the moment with 5 wins from their last 5 games, including a stand out performance away at league leaders Rotherham last weekend. 1-0 down and reduced to 10 men Liam Manning’s side came back to win 2-1 against the Millers and moved themselves into the automatic promotion conversation.
Saturday afternoon is pretty much make or break for their hopes of a top 2 finish.
Therefore we can expect a front footed performance from the home side, something they are very comfortable with doing. The Dons average 57.6% possession this season, the 2nd most in the league behind Ipswich Town. They also average the most shots on target per 90 with 5.2, which counts for 38.9% of their total shots per 90 of 13.05.
They are a fluid attacking force and their recent victories against some of the divisions best sides show just how impressive they can be. Their record against the top 6 is fantastic, with many of their dropped points coming against weaker sides such as Gillingham, Doncaster and Fleetwood.
Latics fans will remember the last meeting between the two sides earlier on in the year as an extremely frustrating Tuesday night performance. We dominated large parts of the game but succumbed to 2 well worked goals in the space of 7 first half minutes. The Dons showed just as much defensive solidity in that game as they have done attacking fluidity throughout the season.
MK Dons are also the divisions most fouled side, drawing over 13 fouls per 90 this season. Not only are they the most fouled, they also commit the fewest fouls so Latics will need to make the most of the limited opportunities they get to deliver from set piece situations (another reason for Joe Bennett’s inclusion).
One criticism you could make for MK Dons is that they aren’t the most aggressive side going, albeit that can be a good thing at times. Not only are they the team with the fewest fouls committed, they also rank 11th in the division for ‘Possession won in the final 3rd’. This means they don’t really press high up the pitch and allow the opposition defenders to have the ball before setting pressing traps and winning the ball back around the halfway line (792 times possession won in midfield this season).
This is an example of one of their pressing traps:
The centre back is given time on the ball but all short forward passes are cut off. A pass to the Wing Back would isolate him 2 vs 1 (RW and RWB) whilst a pass to the Central Midfielder would also put him under pressure. Therefore the obvious option is to pass to a striker 25 yards away in space. The Dons back 5 is deep and has allowed the forward to drop into the space in front.
As soon as this pass is made the RCB leaves the structured defensive line and engages the forward as he turns. Remember, he cannot pass wide as that isolates his full back, he cannot pass back as that lane has been cut off and he cannot pass sideways as the Dons midfielder has gone man to man with his opposite number. Thinking he is still in acres of space he turns on the ball.
The RCB wins the ball comfortably and immediately looks to feed one of his front 3. Because of their lack of real involvement in the press they all find themselves in space and are able to create a shooting chance out of basically nothing.
The Dons forwards are not expected to do lots of defending, they are there to score and create goals. Eisa, Parrott and Twine average 1.6 tackles a game combined, whereas midfielders Smith and Coventry both average well over 2 per 90. This means Naylor, Power and Keane will need to be tidy on the ball and keep it as well as possible.
The bottom line is MK Dons are a good side in the form of their lives. They will be full of confidence and have the tools to really hurt Latics if the away side aren’t at their best.
Player to Watch
Hindsight is a wonderful thing but I really really wish Latics had signed Scott Twine last summer. The 22 year old joined MK Dons on a free transfer from Swindon in the summer and has arguably proved himself to be the signing of the summer in England’s 3rd tier.
With 14 goals and 9 assists to his name so far this season it’s no wonder Twine has attracted interest from Premier League clubs such as Tottenham Hotspur. His all round attacking play is incredibly impressive for a player of his age and after being rested midweek Latics can expect a player 100% ready for the occasion.
Twine takes over 3 shots per game and makes 2.4 key passes for 90 which demonstrates he possess both creativity and the selfishness that a top attacker needs. He has scored 6 goals from outside the box, 4 of which were free kicks, and has the potential to hurt Latics from all over the pitch.
This could well be Latics toughest test of the season, it is definitely our toughest game left. If MK Dons are at their best it will take a hell of a lot for us to come out on top and take the points back to the DW, and given the unpredictability of our form I can’t be sure we’ll do it.
My heart says we’ll leave Buckinghamshire with a draw or lucky victory, but my head tells me Latics will have to do things the hard way after this game. A loss still leaves promotion in our hands but it’ll be a lot closer than it could be.
Unfortunately history suggests we’ll do things the hard way and I think tomorrows game will set up a whirlwind end to the season.
MK Dons 2-1 Latics